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Posts Tagged ‘two kingdoms’

Genesis 11:  Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

The Babel builders sought on the plain of Shinar absolute and eternal security.  How?  Spiritually, by making a name for themselves and physically, by building the world’s first skyscraper.  This is still the lust of the Old Adam because he turned his back on the Lord. 

Years ago, I preached on the tower of Babel and as an example of “making a name for ourselves”, I used Trump Towers, named after it’s builder Donald Trump.  At the time, in Virginia, the response to my illustration was from a couple of members: “Who’s Donald Trump?”  We can not say that any longer. 

Genesis 11: 4 has become a commonplace tag on the lust for security:  I’ll make a name for myself, even to the point of crime.  This contrasts sharply with the next chapter in Genesis, verse 2, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”  The Lord’s Word came to Abram as sheer promise and gift without any asking on Abram’s part.  “Gifts are given to be received, not to be repaid. They thereby establish and define relationships”(Mark A. Seifrid).  The Lord graced Abram and thus He established and defined the relationship.  Abraham could never repay the gift of walking with the Lord in his journey.  When presidents, prime ministers, tyrants, dictators are forgotten, the name of Abraham is remembered on account of his descendent according to the flesh: Jesus Christ.

We are easily awed by the rich and famous and all their works and ways. If we did not want what they have, then the lottery would not exist. Remember:  the rich and famous exact from the ‘gift’ of their largesse more than you and I could ever give.  It is never a gift.It’s the devil’s deal and his deal is always the art of the deal. The hold they have over us is our own fears, like the Babel builders: not to be scattered and supposedly  have in ourselves eternal security but it has never worked that way:  see the pharaohs of Egypt, the Caesars, the Hitlers, the Mussolinis and the like.  All dust but who we remember  is Abraham and his name is on no tower.  It is better to follow a presidential candidate who at least has a veneer of humility and  knows what he/she can not do as the President of this most powerful of all nations: offer eternal security in wealth and power. No skyscraper can ever touch  God and reach heaven, only the Lord who has touched us, the beloved and only-begotten Son of God.  Only the Lord does that by His Son Jesus Christ by sheer grace for the haughtiest of men, that is, for us all.

Let us pray…Almighty God,   our heavenly Father, Your mercies are new every morning;  and though we deserve only punishment, You receive us as Your children and provide for all our needs of body and soul.  Grant that we may heartily acknowledge Your merciful goodness, give thanks for all Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience;  through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

 

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The Fourth Petition:  Give us this day our daily bread.

We have lived for many years under unstable government which I think may be by design.  The current President has more than a passing familiarity with Saul Alinsky’s  Rule for Radicals for community organizing.  Disclosure:  I have not read that book.  A pastor friend told me years ago, in the ’80s, that one of the principles of Alinsky was: “You have to disorganize in order to organize”. You have to rile things up, keep people off balance, in order for you, community organizer, to implement social change.   It sounds wrong  because it is as it is forthrightly dishonest, but the attempt is to keep things unstable in order for you, Community Organizer, for the purpose to bend  the city and her people to your principles.  The scary thing is if, and it is an IF, President Obama has intentionally done so. If he has,  it is dishonest…to say the least.

Nevertheless, my read of these past 7-8 years has been  a time of instability.  All Presidents, and those who govern, want stability, otherwise we the people can not function, but instability, coupled with the changes information wrought now in cyber-time, can cause a societal nervous breakdown. This breakdown began in earnest in the 1960’s. The current President from the get-go has put forth one social change legislation, either for Congress, or by his own unconstitutional hand,  from marriage to just war to the economy to life itself in the womb, which has led to a nation being off balance and riled up. It is my opinion that every President in the past, along with the Congress and the Supreme Court, Democrat and Republican wanted stability, that is. temporal peace, domestic and international so that we the people, well, can live and get on with our lives. This posting is obviously my most politically partisan entry to date: I do not think the current President, or possibly the next one, has this at heart:  stability.

I thought of all this because of Dr. Martin Luther’s comment in The Large Catechism, on the Lord’s Prayer 4th Petition, Give us this day our daily bread. The emphasized portions are my own:

But this petition is especially directed also against our chief enemy, the devil. For all his thought and desire is to deprive us of all that we have from God, or to hinder it; and he is not satisfied to obstruct and destroy spiritual government in leading souls astray by his lies and bringing them under his power, but he also prevents and hinders the stability of all government and honorable, peaceable relations on earth. There he causes so much contention, murder, sedition, and war, also lightning and hail to destroy grain and cattle, to poison the air, etc.  In short, he is sorry that any one has a morsel of bread from God and eats it in peace; and if it were in his power, and our prayer (next to God) did not prevent him, we would not keep a straw in the field, a farthing in the house, yea, not even our life for an hour, especially those who have the Word of God and would like to be Christians.

Churches first let in the devil many years ago by denying Scripture and Christian doctrine, and I think the synagogue also, with Christians, denied the Torah, the Law of God to the detriment of both church, synagogue and our nation. We wanted to feel spiritual rather than to be actually spiritual. We have sowed the wind, now we are reaping the whirlwind. We ceased to be the salt of the earth and as the Lord taught, when salt has lost it’s saltness, it is good for nothing, but to be trampled under the feet of men. How many people, in our God given nation, do not eat their “morsel of bread from God and eats it in peace”?  How many times has the devil prevented and hindered, “…the stability of all government and honorable, peaceable relations on earth” especially these days?  How many times has government consented to this terror? And then when the devil has done his worse, how many times have we cried “peace, peace when there is no peace”  and tried to accommodate ourselves to live in the Age of Terror?  How many times do we think about our pleasure, at whatever cost, from AIDS to drug addiction to unending lust for more and more stuff, pleasures and like, and do not think about our neighbor and his need?

We do not need primarily a presidential election to set things right, but I hope in some ways it does so that we can eat our bread in peace. We need repentance, day by day,and this is Lent in which returning to the Lord your God, for He gracious and merciful and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, is the theme, but not only of this portion of the Church year, but all our days under the Lord. We do not first and foremost need a president elected to save we the people, but to turn ever to the Elect One, the Lord Jesus Christ who has, and cry, Lord, have mercy!

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From an Epiphany Sermon by St. Ambrose:

What are these gifts, offered in true faith? Gold, as to a King; incense, as to God; myrrh, for the dead. For one is the token of the dignity of a king; the other the symbol of the divine majesty; the third is a service of honour to a Body that is to be buried, which does not destroy the body of the dead, but preserves it. We also who read and hear these things, let us, Brethren, offer similar gifts, from our treasures. For we have  treasures, in earthen: (II Cor. iv. 7). If you consider that which you are as being, not from thee, but from Christ: how much more ought you not to consider that which you own as being, not yours, but Christ’s?…

The Magi come by one way, and return by another. For they who had seen Christ, had come to know Christ; and they returned more truly believing than they came. The way is twofold: one that leads to destruction, and the other that leads to the Kingdom. There is the way of sinners, that leads to Herod: this way is Christ by which we return to our country. For here we have no lasting dwelling, as it is written: My soul hath long been a sojourner (Ps. cxix. 6). Let us turn away from Herod- ruler for a while of an earthly power, that we may come to the everlasting dwelling of our heavenly country.

From an Epiphany Sermon by St. John Chrysostom:

And after they had offered their gifts the Magi were warned that they should not return to Herod, and they went back another way into their country. In this they give us an example of virtue and faith, so that we too, having once known and adored Christ our King, and having forsaken the road that we formerly travelled, that is the way of our past errors, and travelling now another road with Christ as Guide, may return to our true country, which is Paradise, from which Adam was driven forth. Of this country the psalmist says: I will please the Lord in the land of the living (Ps. cxiv. 9).

 

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 Text:  St. Matthew 2:13-23

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, the martyred innocents of Bethlehem showed forth Your praise not by speaking but by dying.  Put to death in us all that is in conflict with Your will that our lives may bear witness to the faith we profess with our lips;  through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Intro:  Matthew’s Gospel tells of King Herod’s vicious plot against the infant Jesus after being “tricked” by the Wise Men.  Threatened by the one “born King of the Jews,”  Herod murdered all the children in  and around Bethlehem who were two years old or younger (Matthew 2: 16-18).  these “innocents,” commemorated just three days after the celebration of Jesus’ birth, remind us not only  of the terrible brutality of which human beings are capable but more significantly of the persecution Jesus endured from the beginning of His earthly life.  Although Jesus’ life was providentially spared at this time, many years later, another ruler, Pontius Pilate, would sentence the innocent Jesus to death. (From:  The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

The Martyrdom of the Holy Innocents: Some accounts number them at more than ten thousand, but more conservative estimates put their number around a dozen. 10,000 children or 1 child murdered is one child too many.  The picture above  is a painting by Giotto di Bondone (1266/7 – 1337).   It is eerily prescient of  the many pictures of the bodies of Jews in piles in the concentration camps. Their only crime was they were of the same religion as the One born this holy season.  It makes no sense.  Neither does any abuse of children sexually, physically and/or emotionally from Newtown to our town.

Herod the Great was probably a functional atheist; he thought he ruled by his own right and authority.  He was his own god as all dictators and tyrants vainly and terribly imagine themselves.  We read a lot about the atheism of a Christopher Hitchens, but he pales to the tyrants who think they are gods. With no fear of God in the multitude of  Herods, with the lack of the fear of the Lord, we are in the most functionally atheistic of all time.  We do what we please.   We are own gods and children.  The result?

“Question: Who is the most obnoxious, Protestants, Catholics, or Jews?

Answer: It depends on where you are and who you are talking to—though it is hard to conceive any one of the three consistently outdoing the other two in obnoxiousness. Yet, as obnoxious as are all three, none is as murderous as the autonomous self who, believing in nothing, can fall prey to ideology and kill millions of people—unwanted people, old people, sick people, useless people, unborn people, enemies of the state—and do so reasonably, without passion. Adolf Eichmann was a good family man, a devoted husband and father.”-Lost in the Cosmos:  the Last Self-Help Book by Walker Percy (novelist)

The gripping movie, Judgment at Nuremberg  is about the trials after World War II of the lower level Nazis, in particular, the judges who sent the ‘mental defectives’, and other “undesirables” to their deaths after a “legal trial”.  A key character is the  fictional judge, Ernst Janning (played by Burt Lancaster).  He was known in the Weimar as one of the greatest legal minds in Germany.  He participated in the crimes against humanity for the Nazis yet he knew it was wrong.  In one of the last scenes of the movie, Herr Janning asks the main American judge, Hayward (played by Spencer Tracy) to come and visit him in his prison cell.   Janning wanted a kind of absolution:

Janning: Those people, those millions of people. I never knew it would come to that. You must believe that, you must believe that.

Judge Hayward:  Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.

The death of one man or one child makes it easy for the autonomous, ‘kingly’, ‘great’ self to kill more and more. Mother Theresa said, 

“… if we accept that the mother can kill her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? Any country that accepts abortion, is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what it wants.”  

It took one Child to reverse the sin of Adam.  The holy innocents unwilling death and the grief of Rachel, their mothers,  weeping for them who are “no more”, fulfilled the Scripture that the Child of Mary would die as One for them all.  

This is only a  speculation:  Jesus’ Mother and Step Father may have eventually told Him what had happened on the day of terror in Bethlehem.  The Lord Jesus Christ taught as a man:

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

 5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

The Lord became a child to make us His children and so we are;  as it is written in Galatians 4:4-7: our adoption as the Lord’s sons and daughters.  The Child gives the childless hope, the loveless love, the faithless faith, in the great exchange:   His health for our sickness, His love for  us His enemies, His wisdom for the foolish to make us His own, His death  for our life, His resurrection for our eternal life, so we are born again, His baptized to receive children, from day 1 to the 100th year, in His Name, baptizing them, as we have been by His grace alone, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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Justinian was emperor of the East from A.D. 527 to 565 when the Roman Empire was in decline. With his
beautiful and capable wife, Theodora, he restored splendor and majesty to the Byzantine court. During
his reign the Empire experienced a renaissance, due in large part to his ambition, intelligence, and
strong religious convictions. Justinian also attempted to bring unity to a divided church. He was a
champion of orthodox Christianity and sought agreement among the parties in the Christological
controversies of the day who were disputing the relation between the divine and human natures in the
Person of Christ. The Fifth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in A.D. 533 was held during his reign
and addressed this dispute. Justinian died in his eighties, not accomplishing his desire for an empire that
was firmly Christian and orthodox.
Introduction:  We  pray that our government will protect our right of religion as strongly as Justinian did for the Christian faith in the Roman Empire.  We also pray that the government protect us from tyranny of itself and others, especially in our day Islamic terrorists.  Yesterday we saw and heard the reports of the coordinated terrorist attacks on the sovereign nation of France.  The quote below is the one chosen for this Commemoration of Justinian in the Treasury of Daily Prayer (LCMS).  It is quite apropos for the day after the terrorist atrocities in France and those continuing in Syria and Iraq.  The Lutheran Reformers taught that God’s Word points out to us that the Lord rules in two ways:  the kingdoms of His left hand, the nations, physically and temporally, and through the Kingdom of God in Christ, spiritually and physically.  Christians serve in both rules as the Lord is ruler of both.  This is our hope in the face of terror.  The quote is from Luther’s Commentary on Psalm 2.  I have bold-faced the portion regarding the Lord’s rule through the nations and italicized those comments in regards to the Kingdom of God.

The office of Christ is described most clearly, namely, that He will not bear the sword, that He will not found a new state, but will be a teacher to instruct men concerning a certain unheard but eternal decree of God.

Therefore, even if other kings must also make laws and govern through laws, nevertheless their chief function is not to teach or to pass laws, but to punish evil men with the sword and to defend good men. They are consequently like lictors or hangmen of God. For, as Paul says, “they bear the sword to terrify the wicked and for vengeance” (Rom. 13:4). Their own duty is, therefore, not to teach, because they do not rule over consciences or hearts, but only to restrain the hands….

Christ left these things to the kings of the world; to His own people He says: “It shall not be so among you” (Matt. 20:26). For His kingdom stands in the Word, and His office is to teach. He left the care of swine to the kings of the world, for they have been provided with a staff with which they can drive cattle. But His office is … to preach, to tell of God’s decree. This definition of the kingdom of Christ is clear enough and the proper distinction. But few truly comprehend it. That harmful mixture of both kingdoms continually clings to people’s hearts to such an extent that it is difficult even for spiritual-minded to distinguish this kingdom properly from the kingdom of the world.  Nevertheless those who believe in another life after this life see that the services of kings and governors are necessary for them in this life, but that they need Christ the King for another and eternal life. 

A tyranny that has been around since Mohammed is his religion.  It is the “harmful mixture” of religion and politics.  I do not want to suggest that Islam is about the Kingdom of God. It is not.  Islam bears the sword.  Luther saw the terrible danger of the Church bearing the sword as it has from time to time as a betrayal of Christ and the Word of God and this is evident in Islam.  Islam bears the sword in the name of it’s god and wants to establish a religious empire over the entire world.  It is written in Romans 13 that the ruler,

“… is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”

It is wrong when the ruler does bear the sword in vain, that is, to let temporal evil have another day.  Pray for the government, police and armed forces of France and NATO, and for our own government and armed forces that Islamic terrorism be utterly stopped, as Nazism was crushed.  Still the anti-Christ of Islam and it’s ideology is strong and will probably reappear and will be with us till Christ’s return but as the Church we can do one more thing:  pray for the conversion of Muslims, men and women for whom Christ also died and bore their sins as well as our own.

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2 Timothy 2:

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.

 

Three seemingly disparate events are associated together on this date:  

1.  On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the armistice was signed ending World War I and this date became Veteran’s Day.  We remember all military, soldiers and sailors, who have defended our nation in war.  We thank them for their service and the best way to do that is, as is rightly encouraged in the media: THANK A VETERAN TODAY! 2. On this date, Martin of Tours, Pastor and Bishop was buried in the city of Tours, France:

Martin was born about the year 316 in the town of Sabaria in the Roman province of Pannonia, present day Hungary, of a pagan family, his father a Roman legionary. He spent his boyhood in Pavia in Lombardy where he came under Christian influence, and at the age of ten he decided on his own to become a catechumen (a catechumen is a person preparing for Holy Baptism. When he was fifteen, being the son of a soldier, he was drafted to serve in the army. He was apparently a good soldier and popular with his comrades. One winter night when he was stationed in Amiens, Martin saw a poor old beggar at the city gate shivering in the cold, and, having nothing else to give him, he drew his sword, cut his own cavalryman’s cloak in two, and gave half to the man to wrap himself in. The next night Martin dreamed of Christ in heaven wearing his half-cloak and saying, “Martin, still a catechumen, has covered me with his cloak.” The young soldier, however, found it increasingly difficult to combine his own ideal of a Christian life with the duties of the military. Eventually he decided to be baptized and asked to leave the army, since he was no longer willing to kill. Like his modern counterparts, this fourth century “conscientious objector” had difficulty proving he was not a coward, but finally he was released, now about twenty years old. (from Festivals and Commemorations by Philip Pfatteicher)  But sensing a call to a church vocation, Martin left the military and became a monk, affirming that he was “Christ’s soldier.” Eventually, Martin was named bishop of Tours in western Gaul (France). He is remembered for his simple lifestyle and his determination to share the Gospel throughout rural Gaul (present day France) (Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

3.  On November 10th, 1483  a miner and his wife gave birth to a son.  Baptisms were done quickly due to infant mortality. The next day Hans and Margarette brought their son for Baptism, St. Martin’s Day.  So they named him Martin, as was the custom, after the saint’s day he was baptized.  The son baptized today was Martin Luther.

What do these 3 commemorations have in common? They are all about being a soldier.  We give thanks for those veterans who served in our armed forces.  I have heard many a veteran say that I did my duty and I came home.  Listening to vets, and yes, watching war movies, war is hard, to say the least.  Many veterans do not want to say what happened over there.  They bore arms to defend our freedoms inscribed in the Constitution, the words of the charter of our political freedom.

Martin of Tours left one army and joining the militia Christi, the army of Christ for the salvation of souls.  Christ enlisted him. As bishop he did battle against the heresies of his day and served his people the green and eternal pasture of the Word of God.  He fought against the powers and principalities:  sin, death and the power of the devil. The man named after him, Martin Luther, likewise did the same. Martin and Martin bore the weapons of the Spirit to defend the charter of our eternal salvation, one Lord, one faith, one birth.  Martin and Martin did their duty, lived their callings.  

As the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that he was enlisted by the Lord!  Soldiers have a clear discipline and as Christians, disciples have a discipline to not get entangled in civilian pursuits, that is in the world, but for the world to fight the good fight of faith, so that souls are saved.  Paul focuses Timothy and us on the Lord.  When a superior officer comes into the room, all the soldiers come to attention as we do when we stand to hear the Gospel in the Divine Service.  And all soldiers suffer, as did Paul, Timothy, Peter and all the army of Christ, and as our armed forces do in combat, and even in peace.  We fight for freedom’s sake Christ has set us free and in Christ to not submit again to a yoke of slavery, see Galatians 5:1. This day is united in thanksgiving for our freedom, political and spiritual.  The armies of darkness are on the move again in our nation and amongst the nations.We are freed from  the tyranny of political and spiritual despots and so freed to serve our neighbor, our nation and church, as free citizens of both that  tyranny is defeated, finally by the Lord’s weapons:  the weapons of the Spirit, cf. Ephesians 6: 10-20.

ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, in whose hands are the living and the dead; We give thee thanks for all those thy servants who have laid down their lives in the service of our country. Grant to them thy mercy and the light of thy presence, that the good work which thou hast begun in them may be perfected; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. Amen.

 Lord God of hosts, Your servant Martin the soldier embodied the spirit of sacrifice. He became a bishop in Your Church to defend the catholic faith. Give us grace to follow in his steps so that when our Lord returns we may be clothed with the baptismal garment of righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns With You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

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not nice

15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3: 15-16

A dear friend and colleague’s screen saver  was, “Nice is the enemy of the good”. A tombstone with the motto, “He was nice” is not one for the ages.  All people with a backbone were decidedly not nice at times, yet “nice” is the supreme compliment.  “Nice” means pleasing, agreeable but in a sort of bland way:  “’Have a nice day!’ ‘No thanks, I have better plans’” (Woody Allen).  The Lord has a much better plan for us all.

I think “lukewarm” is synonymous with “niceness”, neither hot nor cold.  Unlike Goldilocks’ “neither hot nor cold, just right”, this “just right” of niceness is not just quite right for the Church’s life and preaching.  Matthew Henry , the 16th/17th Century non-conformist minister, in his enduring commentary, bluntly wrote, “They may call their luke warmness charity, meekness, moderation, and a largeness of soul; it is nauseous to Christ, and makes those so that allow themselves in it.”  So, because you are nice, neither good nor bad, I will spit you out of my mouth.  Lutheran pastor and scholar, Paul Kretzmann on the same text:  

He (Jesus) is constrained to vomit them out of His mouth. That is the judgment of the Lord upon all such as are not seriously concerned about their Christianity, that still profess to be Christians, usually from some ulterior motive, and yet will not oppose the godless ways of the world. They want to mediate between Jehovah and Baal, between God and the world, between Christ and Belial, between light and darkness, between faith and unbelief, between righteousness and unrighteousness. Such people the Lord cannot bear, and unless they change their tactics very decidedly, His disgusted attitude will result in their punishment, in their being excluded from the blessings of the Kingdom.

The lukewarm and the nice will be excluded from the Kingdom?!  Hey, that’s not nice!

 We don’t want to, using ‘60s vernacular, “turn someone off” to the Church by our strident attitudes.  After all,   “It is nice to be nice to those who are nice” (“Colonel Frank Burns”, M*A*S*H).  In that sitcom, Frank Burns’ statement was meant to be nauseating because it is.  

The Lord, in the epistolary section of the Revelation, is speaking to congregations, not individual Christians.  We have a churchly hangover from the ‘50s and ‘60s of “nice congregations”, “lukewarm”. My Father grew up in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod in southern Minnesota. When I was child, visiting Minnesota, he would argue with his in-laws,  who were not Lutherans, about church.  My aunts and uncles complaining about you “German Lutherans”, all that “sitting, standing and kneeling”, especially the kneeling and the worst: “We can’t even receive Communion!”  I knew as a kid, hmmm, we’re different.  We were not “nice”, but that was going to change.   Downplay the doctrine and the practice to get new folks in. I would be catechized well and as a pastor I went along with the program.  I confess:  I was nice. Offer first the programs of the congregation, later the promises of Christ, and practice open communion. We waffled between “Christ and Belial, light and darkness, faith and unbelief, righteousness and unrighteousness” to “reach people”.    If niceness has become a synonym for lukewarmness, then it is a sin, especially in light of the 1st Table of the Law. 

Here is one congregational example of such waffling to get people in and not offend.  My first call was as assistant pastor in a large LCMS/AELC congregation. The sanctuary was quite a charming colonial edifice which was desirous for weddings.  Now, the senior pastor’s wedding policy was complicated in his “schedule of fees and donations” for member and “non-member weddings”. Most weddings were of the non-member category. The spring and summer seasons sometimes included several weddings each weekend.  The justification was that these unchurched couples would, “at least hear the Gospel”.  Pre-marital counseling sessions were required, (it was part of the program) and I began to realize that my sermon would have to be one helluva sermon for the couple, nervous, even nauseous, to “hear the Gospel”.  I do not remembering ever seeing those many newlyweds come back to Church.

I began to be discomfited with this practice, but I was single at the time, and an extra $100 or so every weekend, or more, plus a gift from the couple, was kind of nice…oh-oh.  Anyway, I never said anything to the senior pastor about my misgivings because those wedding services paid. 

Now the next verse in the Revelation 3 text is not usually cited: 

17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” 

Yes, pastors and congregations prospered and we were decidedly less poor  by “reaching out” in this nice way under the guise of “evangelism”.  I think that mega-churches are not new but are old, as they are actually retro mega-throwback ‘50s congregations, the ultra-nice church but using better marketing tactics to sell their niceness now on steroids:  see Joel Osteen. Merging lyrics from the sitcom “Cheers” and Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” applies:  “Come where everybody knows your name and to forget about life for awhile”.  It is so nice.  It pays but at a price for the soul of a church:  “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked”. The church thus has  acquired immune deficiency syndrome to  the onslaught of virulent atheistic secularism under the guise of niceness. After all, “…even a frank enmity against the Christian religion is more promising in a person than the luke warmness and spiritual indifference which these people showed (Matthew Henry)”.

In writing this, I looked up similar articles and came across a good one: “Have a Nice Church” by Fr. Peter Toon. I will be citing his article. “Have a nice Church”  is something our Lord never said. The Lord has a better Church than our nice one.

“We have sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind”.  We went along with the prevailing winds to get along so the “cultured despisers of the faith” would accept us and we them.  Many parents and pastors eschewed saying and meaning, “no”.  In regards to marriage and weddings, we were nice a long time before Obergefell Day, June 26, anno Domini 2,015.  The Pill was the answer to coitus non fecundus and so coitus non interruptus.[i]  Divorce and remarriage in the 70s was accepted. “Living together” meant that a couple could really find out if they were meant for each other.  We called it ala Henry: “charity, meekness, moderation, and a largeness of soul”, that is, we were nice. Fr. Peter Toon,

“Since much modern mainstream “orthodoxy” feels the need to be nice, this means that it only can be bold to make a stand and to speak out for the Lord when this action comes within (what most conservatives in the pews perceive as) the spectrum of being nice. So, for example, homosexual practice may be condemned but not the modern contraceptive culture in which both homosexual and much heterosexual sex thrive. Apparently, this is because many conservatives do not like the former and, in the main, exist within the latter.

Our largeness of soul accepted much that was small and dark and dirty, as if it were charity on our part.

The solution is not to be nice but nasty?  No, for being purposely nasty and mean is not in keeping with the Decalogue. We are not go out of our way to be nasty but we are in the Way to preach, teach and live in the Word of God, spoken, written and Incarnate and it won’t be at times ‘nice’. The goal is goodness. Even “ET” got that much right, when he said, “Be good” to the children, it wasn’t “be nice”. It is about the “hard and narrow way” and in the Way, it is about daily repentance and contrition and His costly forgiveness, putting to death the sin of niceness.

I close with Fr. Peter Toon’s last paragraph of his article.

“Maybe all who claim to be conservative and orthodox ought to try not to use the word nice for a month and see whether or not this helps us to think and to act as faithful Christians in the modern troubled Church.”


[i] An aside regarding contraception:  From Pope Paul IV’s 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, Of Human Life, (the one about The Pill), the section, Consequences of Contraception and in my opinion this is prophetic:

“Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.”

 

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